Who the fuck is Simon Barrett? I obviously know who Ti West is, and I’ve seen Adam Wingard’s name before, and it looks like David Bruckner was involved in The Signal, which was pretty awesome, and Bloody Disgusting has been putting some pretty cool horror movies in theaters, but why should I care about who this Simon Barrett guy is? That was pretty much my response when I had heard about a movie called “V/H/S” after news spread of its screening at Sundance in early 2012. When the press releases were making their way around the internet, I had no idea why this “Simon Barrett” guy’s named was worth mentioning, seeing as I had no idea who he was, and if I don’t know who he is, obviously he’s not THAT important. Hahaha, see what I did there? I made myself look like a big shot! Nice work, Wolfie! Anyways, seeing as I had heard of all those other folks, and enjoyed stuff they had done, I decided I’d investigate this Simon Barrett chap. Why is he a chap? Well, the name “Simon Barrett” sounds British to me, and I know he claims to be from Missouri or something, but I still don’t believe him. Just like the British, huh? Lying right to your face. Always telling you they’re from Missouri. Anyways, after some internetting, I had found out that Simon had written A Horrible Way to Die, which Adam Wingard had directed, and guess what? I liked that movie! It was a pretty cool concept, and had some actors I really dug, like Joe Swanberg the always engaging A.J. Bowen. Okay, maybe this Simon guy is a cool dude after all, but wait, let’s do the most important test: is he on Twitter? By golly gee whiz, he was! And he’s actually pretty funny! I guess ever since then, I’ve considered myself a fan of Simon, both professionally and personally. Professionally speaking, in addition to being a fan of A Horrible Way to Die, one of the segments he wrote for V/H/S (called “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”, directed by Joe Swanberg) was one of my favorites, and the segment he wrote for The ABCs of Death (called “Q is for Quack”, directed by Adam Wingard) managed to stand out amongst 25 other worthy adversaries. And as far as being a fan of him “personally”, well, I guess that sounds like we hang out together or call each other to talk about chicks or something, but that’s not really the case. Well, not yet, at least. I just meant that through interviews and tweets, he has a pretty good sense of humor, so we seem to have some overlap in both horror and comedic tastes. I got in touch with him on Twitter, and since he knew I was a hot shot (ha ha! There it is again! Wolfman: the Hot Shot), he allowed me to send him some questions in an email. THESE ARE THOSE QUESTIONS. And his answers, too. He wrote his own answers.
WolfMan: I can pretty easily recall milestone horror movie moments that I’ve had which affected my tastes in the genre, which not everyone can say. Are there any specific moments/movies/filmmakers who have had a strong impact on your style of horror? Or, considering how often you incorporate comedy into your work, any strong comedic influences?
Simon Barrett: Like most filmmakers of my generation, I grew up idolizing Sam Raimi, John Woo and Peter Jackson. If I had to point to one film that established my tastes, it would probably be Evil Dead II. I saw that movie when I was about 12, and I must have watched it 50 times. Probably due to the fact that that movie really is just kind of a celebration of the medium, Evil Dead II was the first film I really watched enough times that I started to analyze the editing and camerawork and really think about how movies like that are made.
Calvin Reeder in the V/H/S segment “Tape 56” (written by Simon Barrett)
WM: Other than Chronicle, which wasn’t really a horror movie, and Paranormal Activity, which wasn’t received all that well, V/H/S was probably the most successful found footage movie of 2012. Do you think maybe the trend of found footage horror movies might be dying out after all the negative attention the format has been receiving? Between S-VHS and The ABCs of Death, do you think maybe we’ll see more anthologies, with a focus on diverse filmmaking styles and bringing fun scares to the genre instead of trying to emulate reality, will see a rise in popularity?
SB: Well, found footage has been trendy for the past few years, and trends by definition are finite; people get sick of them. So eventually, yes, I think audiences will get weary of found footage, if they haven’t already, and we’ll see less films in that style. That said, found footage movies are relatively inexpensive and easy to make, so I doubt that they’ll ever go away completely, even if those aren’t exactly the right reasons to be making films. Same with anthologies; because everyone involved is basically just making shorts, you can make films that feel big for very little money. Since the entertainment industry seems to be scrambling right now to make inexpensive products, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more anthology films, but that has little to do with popularity or audience demand. I don’t know if anthologies will become popular again; I’m as interested to find out as you are. I have had a lot of people reach out to me and specifically say that they like anthologies and are glad we did the old school anthology thing with V/H/S, and I think people are really going to get a kick out of ABCs. So, maybe?
What was the filmmaking process for your segment in The ABCs of Death? Were you and (director) Adam (Wingard) assigned a letter or was there a discussion among all the filmmakers over who got what?
Most of the filmmakers involved with ABCs chose their own letter, or at least requested like, their top three picks. Adam likes to work more from spontaneous challenges, so he just said that he didn’t care and they could give him whatever letter they wanted. Of course, he got Q, and then we were both like, “Fuck.” I think Tim League said at Toronto that the only other filmmakers that didn’t request a letter and just asked to be assigned one were the Serbian Film guys. Anyway, that was the germ of the idea. I actually wrote two scripts for totally different “Q” concepts – “Quagmire” and “Quiet” were the titles – that Adam very correctly rejected. We were honestly both looking in the dictionary for “Q” words that might work at a certain point. And then You’re Next producer Keith Calder had the idea that we ended up going with. If you can make it through all nine minutes of the ABCs credits, you’ll notice Keith actually has a story credit for our segment.
Simon Barrett (left) with collaborator Adam Wingard
Your segment in ABCs of Death poked fun at the idea that you guys were stuck with the letter Q, which I’m sure came with a lot of pressure. Not only would people try to guess a method of death involving Q, but your segment played around the 90 minute mark, which is where most movies can lose steam, but I think you and Adam really knocked it out of the park. Compared to all the other shorts, “Q is for Quack” played as more of a straight comedy and only had the violence come in at the end. Will we see a straight comedy feature from you at any point in your future?
That was actually something we put a lot of thought into, like, trying to guess what the pacing of the ABCs feature would be and what audiences would be in the mood for around the two-thirds mark. We knew a lot of directors were going for very gory, dark stories, as the ABCs of Death concept sort of dictates, so we decided to go in the opposite direction and try to do something more humorous, and people seem to be responding to it, so that’s great. We’re happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Adam and I did a straight-up comedy some day. One of the projects we’ve talked about doing with Keith and Jess Wu is a romantic comedy, and I actually started writing it, but then got distracted by other, more immediate projects. But I still want to make that film. So, yes. Not many horror filmmakers transition to comedy… but Adam and I have never really been horror filmmakers, like, we’ve never made a straight comedy, but we’ve never made a straight horror film either, unless you count V/H/S. And even V/H/S has a lot of comedy and other stuff in it.
Unless we’re counting your work on supplemental materials, S-VHS marks your first turn as a director. Were the producers the one to ask you to take on writing responsibilities or had you approached them with the idea of directing?
I’d directed other stuff, actually; I directed a terrible short film that was distributed by Troma, but that was a very long time ago. I concentrated on cinematography in film school, things just didn’t go that way. I wrote Dead Birds right out of college with the plan of shooting it and directing it myself for a very low budget, but then it became a larger project, and I started writing more and more, and realized I really liked it, as long as I was able to work closely with the director and editor. I can’t imagine just handing over one of my scripts to a director I don’t know or don’t respect, but working with Adam, who’s a filmmaking genius, is the best of both worlds; I get to be creative in a way that plays to my strengths. Me directing a S-VHS segment was actually (producer) Brad (Miska)’s idea. He knew I’d had aspirations to direct, and he just had a lot of faith in me. And with Adam already directing a segment, it was a good way for us to continue our collaboration while still giving me a chance to direct something. I have to give Brad and the other producers all the credit for me directing on S-VHS; Brad really took a chance on me and I’m hugely grateful, especially since it was a lot of fun. Hopefully I didn’t blow it, I guess we’ll see.
Paul F. Tompkins A.J. Bowen in A Horrible Way to Die
By my count, you’ve collaborated with director Adam Wingard six times in the past three years. How did you guys get involved with one another? Did you know you’d end up working together so frequently?
Dead Birds shot in Alabama in 2003, not far from where Adam was making Home Sick. His screenwriter and producer on that film, Evan “E.L.” Katz, was writing on a freelance basis for Fangoria, and he and Adam came to set to do an article. We all just hit it off. Evan moved to L.A. not long after that and we became good friends. Right when I was getting very frustrated at totally failing to have any kind of studio screenwriting career, Adam was making these incredible short films and movies like Pop Skull for basically no money, like, the budget on Pop Skull was $2,000. We kept talking about how we should collaborate on something, since we both dug each other’s work. Then when we finally did, it was A Horrible Way to Die, and we were like, hey, that actually went okay. I’m not sure we realized that we’d become total partners the way that we have, but that’s just how things happen, they work out or they don’t. You can’t plan for anything in this industry, you just have to be flexible and roll with the punches.
The deadly home invaders of You’re Next
Speaking of Adam, the last time I spoke to you guys, I had invited myself over to your houses to watch You’re Next, which hadn’t had a release date announced. Lionsgate has now officially announced that it will be released August 23rd, 2013. My question is whether or not that announcement is just one part of a larger conspiracy to get me to leave you two alone, or if we’ll actually get to finally see it?
Ha, no, it’s really happening. Lionsgate have a lot of faith in the film and audiences always seem to love it. They’ve had a great year in 2012, not just with huge movies like The Hunger Games and the fifth Twilight film, obviously, but also with their smaller horror releases like Sinister, The Possession, and The Cabin in the Woods. So they’re really in the perfect position to put You’re Next out into the world.
Helen Rogers and Daniel Kaufman in “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”
One of my favorite segments in V/H/S was “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”, where you collaborated with Joe Swanberg instead of your usual partner in crime, Adam Wingard. How did you get together with Joe? Are there any other directors out there that you’d love to collaborate with?
Well, Adam was also involved in that segment as producer and cinematographer. And we’d already worked with Joe in various capacities on a ton of things. Like, Adam shot or partially shot a bunch of Joe’s films around that period, because of course Joe makes, like, six movies a year, so Adam worked on Art History, Silver Bullets, The Zone, Blackmail Boys, Marriage Material, Caitlin Plays Herself… that’s just off the top of my head, I’m sure I’m forgetting some of them, ha. And of course I came up with one of the stories in the anthology film Autoerotic, which Joe and Adam co-directed. “Emily” was the first time I’d written something for Joe to direct, but Joe is such a collaborative, improvisational actor, and we’d worked on A Horrible Way to Die and What Fun We’re Having and You’re Next, so we knew each other’s work methods and styles. It was a totally great experience. I forget how I got to know Joe in the first place, I think he and Adam met at a film festival, and obviously I was a fan of his work, but I think the first time I met him was when he came to my hometown to shoot A Horrible Way to Die. He met Adam way before he met me. Joe’s just a great human being, to know him is to want to work with him.
There are a few other directors I’d like to work with, but not many. Like, it’s not just a matter of being a fan of their work; it has to be the right creative partnership. That’s a rare thing. That said, I do have a project that’s shooting in 2013 with a director who isn’t Joe or Adam, but I can’t talk about it because it hasn’t been announced yet. But it’s going to be really cool. It will hopefully be announced soon, I can speak more to that topic then.
From Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such A Beautiful Day
Lastly, with the end of the year, and apocalypse, approaching, out come all of the best of the year lists. Are there are any movies or filmmakers that made a big impression on you this year? Anything you think we should look out for in 2013?
Man, I’m really glad you asked that question, because my favorite film I saw in 2012 is one that a lot of people have slept on: It’s Such a Beautiful Day, the feature film by Don Hertzfeldt. It got a really limited release. I saw it at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles and was just blown away, it’s an incredible film, hilarious and sad and profound, but almost no one is talking about it. I haven’t seen it on any best of the year lists, but in my opinion, it’s a masterpiece.
There are some other great movies that would be on my top ten list. Obviously The Raid, which I saw last year, is an action classic. Bloody Disgusting released Fever Night: Band of Satanic Outsiders, I thought that was a great movie. MPI has an Irish horror comedy coming out called Stitches, starring Ross Noble, that I saw in the Cannes market, I really enjoyed that film. Also, Drafthouse are releasing the documentary The Act of Killing next year, I saw that at Toronto, I’ve never seen anything like it, it’s devastating. I’m also a huge fan of Pablo Larrain’s film, No, which won Director’s Fortnight; that’s showing again at Sundance, and then Focus are releasing it in February. Everyone should see that.
So, yeah. Obviously I also liked mainstream movies like The Queen of Versailles, Holy Motors, The Imposter, Moonrise Kingdom and The Master, and the fact is I was too busy this year to see all the movies I wanted to. Like, I missed a ton of documentaries, and I still haven’t even seen Argo. But that said, those would be my top recommendations of 2012: It’s Such a Beautiful Day, The Raid, No, Fever Night, Stitches, The Act of Killing. Definitely catch those if you can.
In terms of other 2013 stuff, my mind is drawing a blank right now. I’m hearing amazing things about the new Mo Brothers film, Killers, which Gareth Evans produced, that’s going to be incredible. I’m excited for Calvin Reeder’s new movie, The Rambler, that’s at Sundance, as is Jim Mickle’s remake of We Are What We Are. And Shane Carruth’s new movie, Upstream Color, which Amy Seimetz stars in, that looks awesome. Probably my most anticipated film just as a fan is Tetsuya Nakashima’s adaptation of Attack on Titan, but I have no idea when that comes out; I think it’s filming now, but I’m dying to see it. And heck, I really want to see Django Unchained. So, yeah. All of those.
I’d like to thank Simon for taking the time to respond to all my questions. The ABCs of Death will be released on VOD on 1/31/13 and a limited theatrical release on 3/8/13.